Splash of color marks Buddha Purnima celebrations in Islamic Bangladesh

Splash of color marks Buddha Purnima celebrations in Islamic Bangladesh

Dhaka ,May 11 (newsin.asia): Bangladesh is overwhelmingly Muslim, but there are nearly one million Buddhists living in Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Comilla, Noakhali, Cox’s Bazar and Barisal.  But they are less than one present the total population and are divided into various racial groups, namely the Austic, the Tibeto-Burman, the Draviyan and the Aryan.

According to historians, the Tibeto-Burman group comprises three tribes – the Pyu, the Kanyan and the Thet (also called Chakma).

The Chakmas live in their historical homeland in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Kanyans are also known as the Rakhine (or Arakanese). They live in the South-Eastern part of Chittagong. The plains Buddhists of Bangladesh, known as the Burua-Buddhists, are the original inhabitants of Bangladesh with an unwritten history of 5000 years.

The Burua-Buddhists insist that they came from Aryavarta or the country of the Aryans which is identical to the Majjhimadesh or Madhyadesh in Pali literature.

Although there is no record of the Buddha coming to any part of Bangladesh, the fragrance of Buddhism spread to Bangladesh during his lifetime. Two Bengalis had approached the Buddha to learn from him, thus signaling the beginning of Buddhism in Bengal.

Buddhism flowered in  Bangladesh at the beginning of the Gupta-era and was a major force in the early centuries of the Christian era. At that time, Buddhism in Bangladesh followed Mahayana principles. The Chinese Buddhist taveler, Fa-Hein (399 – 414 A.D.) had mentioned the Kingdom of Chamtaveler on the southern bank of the Ganges where he came across evidence of living Buddhism which was mostly of the Mahayana type.

In the 7th century, Hiuen-Tsang, the famous Chinese pilgrim, recorded various accounts of the persecution of Buddhists by Sasanka, the king of Gouda (North Western part of Bengal).

From the 7th to the 12th century, the Mahayana sect was going through a golden era in Bangladesh .Great Buddhist monasteries came up in Paharpur, Somapura, Jagaddal, Vikrampur and  Pattikera.

Scholars like Shree Dipankar Atish, Shilabadra, Shantiraksit existed in Bangladesh. Their scholastic works belonged to the  Mahayana school.

But the Mahayana school ultimately absorbed Tantrism. But the Tantric Buddhists forgot the original teachings of the Buddha. Even monks were eating fish and  meat, drinking wine ,having sex, dancing and making money. Seeing the downfall of Buddhism in Bangladesh many monks and laity tried to rectify the situation.

In the 15th century (according to Dr.Heinz Bechert) a member of the royal family named “Keyakcu” of Cakaria went to Moulmein in Burma and was ordained there under the tutelage of Ven. Sharbu. Keyakcu was named Ven.Chandrajyoti Bhikkhu. He   stayed in Burma for twenty years to study the scriptures and came back to Chittagong to establish Asrams in Sitakunda, Haidgaon called Cakrasala, Cendirpuni, Thegarpuni, Chittagong, Ramu and other places for the propagation of Theravada Buddhism.

But he failed to organize a traditional Buddhist Sangha in Bangladesh. Thus,  the people of Bangladesh remained in darkness about Theravada Buddhism for long.

However in 1864, Ven. Sangharaj Saramedha came to Chittagong and brought with him a full chapter of trained monks in to give higher ordination to those who were willing. He was then staying at Pahartali Mahamuni in Chittagong. During the annual ”Mahamuni Fair” many Buddhists assembled there and on that auspicious occasion he gave higher ordination to seven monks of Chittagong in the Udaka- Ukkhepa. This was the first historic Upasampada ceremony in Chittagong by which Theravada Buddhism was officially inaugurated.

The Theravada-based religious reformation inspired the monks and people of the region. Eventually, they discarded their Tantric practices and other superstitions.  The monks were given fresh ordination and initiated into the Theravada monastic discipline.

The Sri Lankan Vesak is observed as Buddha Purnima in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi Buddhists love color and display it in the most tasteful manner

Such was the success of the reformation movement that more than 95 percent of the Buddhist monks in Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts and other Buddhist regions came under the fold of the newly reformed Theravada Buddhist Sangha. This led to the establishment of a reformed Bhikkhu Sangha popularly named as Sangharaja Nikaya.

But after 12th century AD, Buddhism was challenged by a new militant force and  was  finally rooted out  from its  place of origin.

However, Buddhists from Magadha (Burma) and Vaisali (Bihar,India) migrated to Chittagong and settled there mixing with local Buddhists. Greater Chittagong always kept the torch of Buddhism burning because it came several times under the Arakanase Buddhist kings from 2nd to the 15th Century A.D.

At present Buddhists are found in Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Rangamati, Khagrachari, Patuakhali, Dhaka and Barguna Districts. Other than the Bengali Buddhists, there are tribal Buddhists in Bangladesh. Among them Chakmas, Marmas, and Rakhaines are worth mentioning.

For a long time these Buddhists were harassed and ill-treated by the rulers of the country. Very recently the Buddhist minority in the Cox’s Bazar area was attacked by unidentified Muslims .They burned at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes in anger over a photo published on Facebook. (Source www.budhismandaustralia.com)

(Chakma girls in their colorful attire celebrate Buddha Purnima or Vesak)